Russian Orthodox Church offends Ukrainians


Eastern Europe

Floris Akkerman, RD

Commemoration of fallen soldiers in Lviv. Photo EPA, Wojtek Jargilo

The war in Ukraine is also about religion. The Russian Orthodox Church offends the Ukrainians. "War is satanical madness which leads to the destruction of innocent people."

Even both of the balconies in the church building are full during the service on Saturday morning in the St. George's Cathedral in Lviv. Downstairs, churchgoers are praying and singing shoulder to shoulder. Candles warm the church; the choir carries the attendants. There is a prayer for all the dead: fathers, mothers, relatives and also for deceased Ukrainian soldiers at the front, hundreds of kilometres from Lviv in Western Ukraine.

The St. George's Cathedral shows its true colours by praying for the soldiers: it sides with Ukraine. Therefore, the St. George's Cathedral distances itself entirely from the Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate, to which it belonged until the day of the Russian invasion on February 24.

A week after the war started, the St. George's Cathedral broke of the Moscow Patriarchate. "What happens today is not only a sin but a satanical madness which leads to the destruction of innocent people", the Church announced on its Facebook page.

Kirill offends Ukrainian Church

The war between Russia and Ukraine takes place not only on the battlefield but also in religious circles. Patriarch Kirill from the Russian Orthodox Church sided unambiguously with the Russian president Vladimir Putin and his attack on Ukraine. Kirill sees the war as a holy battle between good (Russia) and evil: the West and Ukraine. His argumentation offends Orthodox Churches and monasteries in Ukraine.

The St. George's Cathedral is not the only parish separated from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). According to Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), fifty church communities broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, UOC) and joined his Church. In addition, hundreds more are planning to do so, Epiphanius said.

A spokesman does not want to tell why the St. George's Cathedral in Lviv did not take this step earlier. Roman Bandrivski (55) leaves the church during the service and explains why the separation took place now. "After 2019, much did not change. Everyone serves the same God. But Russia is the enemy now. Kirill supports the war and the killing of brothers."

Not speaking out against Russia leads to suspicion

Who does not speak out against Russia clearly, is quickly suspected of choosing the Russian side. To remove any doubt about its loyalty to Ukraine, the St. George's Cathedral attached a blue-yellow –the colours of Ukraine– banner to the church's fence. The text says: "The parish of the diocese of Lviv of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church condemns the war Russia started and pleads for the territorial integrity of Ukraine."

The presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine frustrates politicians. Kyiv sees the church as the instrument of Putin to exert influence in the country. At the end of March, Ukrainian MPs proposed to ban all activities of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. That Church is active for Putin, the proposal reads. It also mentions names of priests in Ukraine who would have helped Russia.

After the service in the St. George's Cathedral, churchgoers approach Igor (61). His cane, hat and long coat make him look like a sage. Igor is a retired physician but continues his work. Therefore, people ask him for medical advice. "Retired or not, a doctor ought to cure people." Igor preaches peace and opposes the war.

This article is translated by CNE.news and was published earlier in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on April 12, 2022.



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